4 out of 5 stars
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Patty Jenkins
with Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern, Scott Wilson, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Lee Tergesen, Annie Corley, Marco St John, Bubba Baker, Marc Macaulay, Brett Rice, Robb Chamberlain
release US 24.Dec.03; UK 2.Apr.04
03/US 1h51

Dynamic duo: Yes, that's Theron with Ricci.

theron ricci dern
See also: Nick Broomfield's doc AILEEN: LIFE & DEATH OF

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Monster If you've seen one or both of Nick Broomfield's documentaries about Aileen Wuornos (1992's Selling of a Serial Killer and 2003's Life & Death of a Serial Killer), this film has an extra element of interest ... and an even stronger gut-punch! Especially in Theron's astonishing performance, which combines with Jenkins' thoughtful script to make one of the most haunting character studies in years.

After a horrific childhood and an adult life as a hitchhiking hooker, Aileen Wournos (Theron) still hasn't given up on finding love, getting a real job and settling down. But love arrives in the unexpected form of Selby Wall (Ricci), a young woman rebelling against her conservative family. After getting used to the idea of loving a woman, Aileen begins to look for work, but she doesn't exactly have the right experience to be, say, a legal secretary! In desperation she hits the streets again, and in fear and frustration she kills one of her johns, starting a chain of events that we know doesn't have a happy ending.

This is a fascinating story--creepy and dramatic, then suddenly heartbreaking as it reaches its emotionally devastating climax. Theron gets so deep into the role that it takes our breath away, and not just because of her shocking physical transformation from statuesque supermodel to pudgy streetwalker. It's a gutsy performance that exposes Aileen's inner soul, which isn't nearly as black as we think it'll be. Ricci is a bit more problematic, as if she struggled to find Selby's essence; and we never quite get a grip on her or her motivation either. But even this adds to the unsettling atmosphere in a seriously evocative, unforgettable film that works both as a tragic personal story and as an examination of the ugly truth behind the American Dream. There are no easy answers here--Jenkins tells the story without simplistic moralising, never wallowing in sentiment or making Wuornos the movie villain we need her to be. This is inventive, clever, complex filmmaking that's exponentially eerie when combined with Broomfield's documentaries. Not just as a tabloid story, but as a look into our own souls.

cert 18 strong adult themes and situations, language, violence 31.Dec.03

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... L Taylor, Minneapolis: 5 out of 5 stars "I think there has been a lot of talk about this movie - how Charlize gained 30 pounds and made herself look way too much like the real person. But it was worth it. All I can say is: Oscar and Golden Globe time? I thought her performance was amazing. This is a movie that will be remembered. You understand how things happened, and almost feel sorry for this serial killer. A well done movie!" (16.Jan.04)

Monster john, net: "Surprisingly good performance from Theron & I think also Ricci, but does not compare to the nuanced & generally subtle performance from Naomi Watts in 21 Grams. While a few think Watts's character went over the top a couple of times, it was understandable, unlike Theron's character who was of course psychotic & one-note. That is not Theron's fault, but there was a little too much strutting, posing & imitating. I make the comparison because these are the two contenders for best actress & Watts is merely continuing her acting as Ms Range, as Inarritu calls her. Perhaps Theron will also follow-up with great performances as Watts did after Mulholland Drive. But of course Theron is the surprise this year." (16.Jan.04)

Rick Spiardi, Maryland: 4.5/5 "Very compelling movie. Simply put, A great film! The writer-director did more than her homework depicting the main character(s) for this film. A large portion of this film took place where the real characters hung out and lived, and this along with the graphic nature/lanquage gave me a very real sense of what Aileen and Selby were dealing with at that time. I could not find a trace of Charlize Theron as she portrayed her character for this movie; and the fact that she is one of the most beautiful women in the world - this is not an easy task for her to accomplish. She definitely deserves an award for her role in this film." (13.Jun.04)

2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall